It was 1979, Bainbridge Island’s music and dance scene was in full swing, with dancing and live music performed at venues all around the island. Local islander, Ginni Hawkins, a big fan of pop music and musical theater, began playing the piano and singing at open mic night at The Lemon Tree Restaurant (now Isla Bonita) where other local musicians occasionally joined her, including Kaetche Facemeyer Miller and Dianne Brown Trani, with whom she found a harmonious vocal connection. Thus began the musical friendship that became the Fenderskirts.
The vocal trio played often, specializing in dance music from the ‘40s through the ‘70s and genres such as Motown, pop, rhythm and blues, and even Hit Parade (and later, music from the ‘80s and ‘90s). They took the name Fenderskirts because of their early association with an established country band, Willy and the Tailgaters (led by Scott Taylor and local potter Bill Clark). Their popularity grew, and they formally became the Fabulous Fenderskirts with a back-up band of their own.
In addition to playing at the former Lemon Tree, this vivacious threesome could be heard across the island at long-gone venues like the Martinique, which was located on the corner of Winslow Way and Erickson (across from Amelia Wynn restaurant), Marshalls, which occupied an old house on the south side of the Village Mall (now known as Island Village) and Mac’s Tavern (now Doc’s Marina Grill). They also frequently performed at the annual Firemen’s Ball, held multiple times at the old Timber Lodge—the former recreation facility for the Fort Ward military post, which ran along the waterfront at Fort Ward Park. When that building was condemned, the ball moved to the Storefront Theater, then located in the Village Mall where Starbuck’s now resides. They were also the first entertainers to perform live (and returned many times) at the annual 3rd of July Street Fair and Dance (part of the annual Grand Old 4th celebration).
Their popularity didn’t remain local for long. Soon they were traversing the Sound, playing at venues in Seattle such as Matzoh Mamma’s on Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square Tavern, Tijuana Tilly’s, Old Timers and the Underground in Pioneer Square, and the Scarlet Tree and The Rainbow in the University District. In addition, they played at the G Note in Greenwood, the Owl Tavern in Ballard, and Port Townsend locations such as the Judge’s Chambers, the Town Tavern and the Upstage Bistro, as well as many other locations throughout the Seattle and Kitsap communities.
Demand was high and they regularly played at private parties, weddings, corporate events and for non-profit fundraisers such as Benaroya Hall Symphony in Seattle and Arts & Humanities Bainbridge. In 2016, this legendary trio played their farewell show at the Filipino American Community Hall on Bainbridge Island, and long-time islander and fan Steve Stolee was there to film it all.
Steve Stolee grew up in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and later made his way to Fairbanks, Alaska, where he lived for many years. Wanting to finish up his college education, he moved to the island and attended the University of Washington. It was only supposed to be temporary, as he loved Fairbanks and wanted to move back again—that was in 1979 and he hasn’t looked back since.
Steve’s passion and profession as a producer, director, writer and performer for independent films and theatrical productions have been an asset to Bainbridge Island for more than 40 years. His cultural contributions to our community include co-founding Island Theatre and the theatre’s annual Ten-Minute Play Festival. He has created several visual histories and documentaries and received the Island Treasure Award in 2019.
As a fan of the Fabulous Fenderskirts, he was excited to attend their farewell performance. Appreciating what a treasure they were to the community, he knew he had to film the historic event as well as interviewing the fans in attendance. He applied for the Individual Artist Grant from Arts & Humanities Bainbridge in 2019 to convert the rough cuts into a documentary to memorialize these island treasures. As he told me, “It’s a celebration of these three wonderful women that so aptly represent our island’s cultural heritage.”
Of course, the timing was miserable due to Covid. Although he’d hoped to film additional live interviews, he had to settle for recording them through Zoom calls. While he found the Zoom additions disappointing, he invited his 21-year-old nephew to watch a rough cut of the movie after which the young man declared, “Damn! Now I’m a fan of the Fenderskirts!” That was all the encouragement Steve needed to finish the project.
A Date with the Fenderskirts premiers at the Historic Lynwood Theater for a one-time screening on Thursday, October 28, 2021 at 7 p.m.
The film is a fundraiser for Arts & Humanities Bainbridge – admission by donation at four levels, which include various event premiums, such as T-shirts, posters and streaming video access. For tickets click here.
Film Stars: Ginni Hawkins, Kaetche Facemeyer Miller, Dianne Brown Trani
Length: Film 45 minutes; entire program is 2 hours and will include a panel with the original Fenderskirts and audience participation.
“The Fenderskirts are a Bainbridge Island pop vocal trio and cultural institution since 1979. They are celebrated here in a documentary by Steve Stolee that features their music and interviews about their rise to local legend.”
Distributor: Stolee Communications
*This article was previously published in Currents Online (Arts & Humanities Bainbridge)
To read more about the show, visit: The Fabulous Fenderskirts: How three women became the island’s most iconic musical trio | THE ISLAND WANDERER